Dave Craven: Give Wigan’s Ian Lenagan credit for bold step towards Australia

HUll and Wigan are set to lock horns in Australia.
 Picture Bruce Rollinson
HUll and Wigan are set to lock horns in Australia. Picture Bruce Rollinson
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DESPITE all the furore over Wigan Warriors taking a Super League game to New South Wales next season, I actually feel it is a terrific move.

Now, that’s not just me towing the party line because, Hull FC being their opponents in Wollongong on February 10, I have a far-fetched idea of perhaps getting on a flight out there to see it all unfold for The Yorkshire Post.

No, that’s not it at all (but any interested sponsors please do email me).

For me, it is simply an exciting prospect that can only do good for the sport, not just Wigan’s brand – and it is owner Ian Lenagan’s baby – but Super League’s, too.

People who are moaning that the Rugby Football League should be taking a top-flight game ‘on the road’ closer to home, such as Bristol or Leicester or somewhere of a similar ilk, are missing the point.

It isn’t the RFL, or Super League for that matter, who are driving this concept, it is purely being marched forward by Wigan with Hull happily playing their part.

Ian Lenagan, Wigan Warriors owner, has caused division by taking match with Hull FC to New South Wales (Picture: Paul Greenwood).

Ian Lenagan, Wigan Warriors owner, has caused division by taking match with Hull FC to New South Wales (Picture: Paul Greenwood).

Now Lenagan infuriates many and he has irritated me at times with some of his viewpoints and actions, not least the fiasco when calling off that home game with Widnes Vikings at such late notice earlier this season while apparently failing even to discuss it with their opponents or the governing body.

His 13-team Super League suggestion for 2018, too, is another bizarre, hair-brained idea that should never have even been given the time of day.

Nevertheless, I digress. In this instance, he has shown real ambition to deliver such a bold and intriguing prospect.

Let’s not kid ourselves. Wigan will no doubt stand to make plenty out of this arrangement, despite sacrificing a home game, but that is to be expected; Lenagan has shown before how his beloved cherry and whites are his only real concern.

There are obviously questions galore as to what the wider benefits of the excursion actually are for Wigan or anyone from these shores, but the club has put together a neat package to try to answer them all.

The YP’s Dave Craven

But the by-products can be positive for Super League, too, with the competition exposed to new fans and sponsors with this being the first game taken outside of Europe since the competition began.

To create a three-game tour, Wigan and Hull will also play South Sydney and St George Illawarra respectively in a double-header at ANZ Stadium in Sydney a week after that Wollongong fixture. Lovely.

That will certainly be valuable experience for both Super League squads and especially the England – or future England – players among them.

There are obviously questions galore as to what the wider benefits of the excursion actually are for Wigan or anyone from these shores, but the club has put together a neat package to try to answer them all.

In a nutshell, Wigan have entered a Tourism and Destination Partnership with the New South Wales Government to take part in the tour.

As part of that, the Super League (and let’s not forget, World Club) champions will display the Sydney.com logo on the back of their shirts for the rest of 2017 and whole of 2018.

‘Why?’ you ask. Wigan say the sponsorship from New South Wales Government coupled with other opportunities in Australia make it the “biggest single commercial initiative” in the history of their club.

They argue they are the only Super League side, so far, to commit to two marquee players – Sam Tomkins and George Williams – and are “constantly fighting off interest from other clubs and sports for our best players” so new ways of making money have to be found.

They want to be Super League’s best on and off the field, “growing the Wigan brand” in current and new markets is vital and they state New South Wales is the world’s biggest rugby league market. They have a point.

Wigan also say the tour not only opens up new potential business, but increases the club’s profile in the NRL and will alert ‘star’ players there who may want to play Super League.

It is debatable if any truly ‘star’ players will ever come over here now with the huge differences in salary cap, but, we’ll let Wigan have that, too.

Well done them. In fact, without wanting to sound like the RFL, this really is innovative.